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Vietnam's Elephants on the Brink of Extinction

A conservation center in Dak Lak province in the Central Highlands may be Vietnam's last hope to save its elephants. 

AFP reports on the Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Center, which aims to create a small herd of elephants in order to build a sustainable population. 

According to the news source, the country's elephant population is an extremely precarious position. Fewer than 100 animals remain in the wild, while around 80 are in captivity. In 1980, up to 2,000 elephants roamed the country, National Geographic shares.

Tuan Bendixsen, director of Animals Asia Vietnam, tells AFP that "at the rate they're going now, within a generation or so we'll probably lose the elephants."

He goes on: "As the number gets smaller and smaller, it's going to be harder and harder for the elephants to hang on."

Human development has cut off breeding routes for the wild pachyderms, severely hurting their ability to reproduce, the news source reports, while poaching and habitat loss have wiped out most of the population. Even captive elephants struggle to breed since they spend their days chained up waiting to serve tourists.

Willem Schaftenaar, a Dutch volunteer at the conservation center in Dak Lak, tells the news source: "The elephants that are here should be kept under the best conditions...not keeping them for rides." 

However, according to AFP, convincing elephant owners to hand their animals over for conservation purposes will be difficult. Mahouts can earn up US$13 a day offering rides to tourists, well above the average daily income in Vietnam. 

Elephants are also a status symbol, and owners are hesitant to give them up. Y Vinh, a mahout from the M'nong ethnic minority group, tells the news source, "the elephant here is a big asset, but more important, it's a spiritual animal for us."

[Photo via Yahoo! News]

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